All posts by Kai Strandskov

Kai Strandskov grew up in a musical family. His father played the tuba in a Danish folk dance band and sang in the church choir, while his mother played a variety of musical instruments--including accordion in a Balkan music ensemble. It was as a small child while falling asleep listening to the intricate rhythms and melodies of folk music from around the world, that Kai naturally gained an interest in music. Starting in the 4th grade, Kai played trumpet in school bands. It was in his senior year that a buddy of his, Shawn Evans, introduced him to a local ska band, Smidgen, headed by Libby Roach. They gained some local popularity, and regularly played in the local scene and with touring bands that traveled through, such as the Cherry Poppin' Daddies. The next year, the band decided to reinvent itself into a more experimental rock band. With influences like John Zorn’s Naked City, No Means No, Sonic Youth, and Mr. Bungle, the band got louder and Kai ditched the trumpet and took on the drums. Kai obsessively taught himself the coordination needed for a drum set and to keep up with the complicated rhythms that the band required, listening to recordings of drummers with a wide range of styles such as Terry Bozzio, Mike Bordin, Jon Fishman, Neil Peart, Tim Alexander, Bryan Mantia, Carter Beauford, and John Bonham. Kai continued to play in the local scene, working on additional projects such as the Heroin{e} Martyr Coalition, an avant-garde spoken word group, and A Million Fingers, a rock band with a strong political message. He briefly moved to Santa Cruz, California, and dabbled around briefly in the scene there, and then dived into the deep end of the Seattle scene. Today, Kai is still playing a wide range of styles in Seattle; from the neo-wave progressive electroclash band Hidden Number, to a Party Metal band by the name of Shiplosion, to a chaotic Balkan ensemble called the Bucharest Drinking Team. He is also a session drummer for recording studio Magnets Large & Small, and available for subbing in for folks.

Day 4 – Part 1 – WNUR

That night, we stay in a real house. It was such a delight to sit in a room. And that room came with air conditioning and cats! But really something other than a van is luxury at this point.

If someone isn’t in the very back sleeping, we’re sitting three across in the back seat, immersed in humidity. You only want to be in back if you’re sleepy, because it’s bumpy, loud, and filled with exhaust. Either way, you’re sweaty, and you never dry out. So glad I brought baby wipes.

So anyway, we crash out in their beautiful, air conditioned wood paneled home full of snuggling kittens, and get our first real showers in the morning.

Of course, Stuart had been up for hours, working on the broken chime-a-tron, and driving around looking for parts.

But without any success, we shove off for Chicago. Running late. Juice and energy bar for lunch.

Along the way, we try to stop at music stores, but they’re either closed on Mondays or out of business. Thanks for nothing joogle. Well, it was a great excuse to get out and walk and/or hobble around if you’re David.

We roll into WNUR with a deficiency of chimes, cables, batteries, and earplugs (this is why we can’t have nice things).

Guess what? We’re lost in Northwestern campus! So Joel jumps out and joins a clustered tour group, raises his hand, and asks for directions. The guide responds, “Isn’t it in that building covered in radio dishes?”

Yes, tour guide. Yes.

Stoked that its all on the same floor! We load in no time, and get set up. The building is shared with the video department, so we set up in a sound stage. Excited to play in a white room devoid of corners. We’re like the Beetles!

Since there’s no audience, we can set up in a circle, and we are inspired. Playing college radio takes some patience, as you are working with students and the equipment may be spotty. But the kids are completely involved, and take our complex nontraditional setup as a personal challenge. Even the DJ is helping to set up. Our friends are texting us, “Are you gonna play? I just hear Swedish music.” Ultimately, we play an hour late, but we had a blast, got some fun videos and photos, and I totally just played on the radio for the first time! Yeah!

At the end, I make a sign to let the control booth know we’re done. I think Stuart misinterpreted my motion, because he immediately laughs and says something that sounds like, Well that was fast!” (he said something else, but history is written by the victors.)

We are so late again, but that is now a way of life. We zoom toward The Hideout, too late for soundcheck–the iconic Chicago skyline before us.

Day 3 – David’s encore

I awake 7 hours later in civilization, and consume an energy bar and apple juice for breakfast.

We are still driving, and somehow have made up some time but stop briefly for sandwiches to go. We will miss a full sound check, and don’t want to be any later.

We notice many water towers, a rarity in Seattle, and many roadside shops with names like “CHEESE” and “Cheese Castle/Spirits”.

We finally enter Milwaukee and there’s literally a rockstar parking spot directly on the street out front of Quarters, long enough for our trailer. Also, we are exactly on time. Also, our hosts for the evening have already ordered pizzas (food and nonfood).

The chime-a-tron is broken. Okay, other than that, WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG.

The booker apologizes ecstatically about the small space, but we love it. A double level stage, plenty of beer, and an awesome deck out back, wherein we gorge upon pizzas and compliment our hosts.

The night kicks off with some awesome ambient music by a gal who sits on the floor, surrounded by various effects pedals that gleam in the dark like ritualistic candles. I’ll need to find her later–it put me in the right mindset.

Our set went great. We figured out that I could play handbells in place of the chime-a-tron. A bit disorienting, but more visceral than pressing abstract keys. We are cozy on the stage, but a vast improvement over a two day van trek. It felt great to finally express the concepts we had traveled far for. I’d say we were elated. Low on energy reserves, low on hydration, low on sleep, but elated.

This is when our keyboardist, David, neurocardiogenic syncopees all over everything. He jumps up on stage, bangs his knee at full force on the way up, leans down on one amp in agony, and then careens unconscious across the stage, lands on the DX7, spins around, and smacks the back of his head on the stage–as the keyboard and stand land softly on his comatose form.

A trip to the ER later, and he’s fine. Except for the nastiest welt on his knee you will ever see. An autobiographical performance art inducing welt.

Oh, I should mention, as we were packing up before picking Dave up, a dude named Nick played a fantastic electro ambient set, awash with pulsing arpeggios. Both of us had our first set that night! How fitting.

Thank you Quarters for your kindness in the midst of drama. Dave is just fine, albeit a little more road hardened.

Day 2 – part 2 – Descent into madness

So then, Joel noticed that most Rush songs sound like variations of the theme for Land of the Lost. This is foreshadowing.

At some point in Montana, we discover the van was on the verge of overheating. That adds a level of suspense to our journey, yet I fully expect the van to break down at some point. It had only gotten 4 hours of downtime at this point and we weren’t even halfway to our first destination.

Stuart tops off the radiator, and we hesitantly venture forth. The ambiant heat of the air outside is the most oppressive yet, but we know our delicate Seattle sensibilities have much more to endure.

The Montana sunset is glorious, lighting up the violet clouds in the distance. That night, we pull over to witness the massive blood red moon, the numerous Perseod meteor showers, and the edge of our galaxy. And we pee.

Jake does the calculations, and we are woefully behind schedule. We will be driving nonstop to Milwaukee.

After catching up on my shuteye, I take the helm at midnight. Joel is navigator. We enter the ominous region of North Dakota.

The last time I took this road trip, I managed to sleep through North Dakota, and awoke in Minnesota to the maniacal laughter of Susan’s celebration of exodus.

This time, karma strikes and I find myself in thick fog on a perfectly straight dagger of highway piercing into oblivion. I can’t tel the true depth of visibility, but I lurch forward with one eye on the road and one eye on the temperature guide. I’m balancing velocity and temperature.

Joel and I are astonished by the uncountable number of towering flood lights both near the highway, and in the distance. Through the fog, faint glows flicker and dance like UFOs. On the horizon, a colony of red lights randomly blink on, then cut off simultaneously. The moon is barely a blur above us. The highway continues on.

It occurs to me that I’m riffing on Joel’s concept of Land of the Lost, as written by Rush. It’s 4am, and now I’m just singing every single Rush song I can think of, replaced with Sleestacks, pylons, and dinosaurs. I run out of material, and sing Rush in Björk’s voice. I include Sleestacks.

We pass a tower billowing fog into the fog, and agree the lights would not be such a great investment without their industrial fog machine.

There are no towns, there are no gas stations. I switch to the backup gas tank.

Then the lights vanish. We careen forward in complete darkness, with the driver babbling incoherently in some imagined interview between NPR’s Corey Flintoff and Björk, regarding her new iPhone app that simultaneously calls the entire world to warn them of the Dragon in her tummy that is behaving well but getting a little restless.

It’s 6am, and we reach a gas station. I sleep.

Day 2 – Dama/Libra tour

So yeah, yesterday I got some flack for packing as much as for half the trip. But there was enough space, so no need to shuffle things around.

Last night we made it through Idaho, into Montana, and stopped at motel after motel–all full. We imagined the motels were filled with hundreds of bands, also touring.

We chatted with a guy wandering around a town at 4am, looking for his friend’s hotel. Only two in the town, so we wished him well. He seemed to be regretting his night of drinking and forgetting which hotel he was in.

Eventually, we stopped at a rest stop with a campground. Stuart slept on the top of the trailer like a boss. We slept inside all cramped but warm.

Today we drive endlessly beneath the open Montana skies. These are the childhood realms of Stuart and Joel, so we listen to eclectic tales of earlier times. Endless fields of hay and cattle, captured by craggy peaks in the distance.

We will be taking shifts, driving all night. We’re behind schedule, but in high spirits. Caffeine is our solace.

Day 1 – An attempt to leave Seattle

Okay we just need to leave town. At this point, that’s the goal. Just leave. Will we, though?

We wanted to hit the road at 12:45 when Joel arrived, but there has been a battle of day jobs, trailers, loading, and then … Hemp Fest traffic strikes, with a second punch of stadium traffic… And my drums aren’t even in the van yet. One of those days.

I hope the van can make it up my hill at this point.

Also, I’m wondering if they will give me grief about packing too much. They are diehards, but I’m new to this. I only packed for 7 of the 14 days, so hopefully I’m not too much of a diva.

Dama/Libra Tour 2014

So, I have been saving up some blog ideas, but have had no real time to flesh them out because of this Dama/Libra tour. Perhaps I’ll have a moment while riding in the van to deal with that backlog.

I was thinking back to how it is that I got to be this fortunate, and ended up going back to 2003. So that’s a long story for another day. Suffice to say, I feel very fortunate. Stuart and Joel are incredibly kind hearted souls, so they are great to work with.

If you’re just getting caught up, Pitchfork gave Dama/Libra a 7.1 and wrote up a review. I think the reviewer missed the point of a few things, but in another way he really dug into the psychology of the album that felt very poignant.

It has been a real eye opener to work with Stuart, in the way that he intuitively thinks about time and space (in a musical sense). It’s made me have to question many of my own habits as a drummer. His music is so slow, that you must throw counting out the window and just rely on each other for queues and simply feel when it’s time to play a particular figure. It’s frightening to let go, yet also very freeing. His phrasing is so long, and notes so sparse, that you must enter a zen like state just to play the music. Very challenging, and very gratifying.

Joel brings thoughtful, and frankly vulnerable, lyrics to these songs. Sometimes I get distracted by their meaning, even while performing. Vulnerable really is the right term. Working with him in rehearsals, he’s the real thing. Singing, or just hanging out–it’s the same guy. It’s refreshing to work with a singer who is just so genuine.

Even the song, Destroy, which has one word: destroy, feels so right! He sings it right in the middle of the song, and it’s this sudden moment of clarity that then completely changes your point of view as the song continues along. I wonder if by “destroy”, he might also mean “renew”? I’ll need to ask him that tomorrow.

So here’s the vague tour route:

 

We leave… tomorrow! We’ll cram our belongings in a single van, and drive across the US. 7500 miles! I have never gone on a tour this long, so I’m excited!

I hope to see you along the way. Please stop by and say hi!

Oh, and I published the calendar, so I hope there are some places near you.

 

FolkLife 2014

Hey, just a quick update on Folklife 2014! I have my performance schedule this year so I just want to briefly share that.

Saturday

12:30pm — The m9 — busking nearish the statue between EMP and Seattle Center. We play Serbian Brass music. Lots of horns and drums.

6pm — Bucharest Drinking Team — at the Fountain Lawn Stage by the beer garden. We’re a party band, so be prepared for that. And then the Balkan Misfits showcase continues the rest of the evening!

9pm — The Debaucherauntes — afterparty at the Conor Byrne in Ballard, with a bunch more cool bands. We do Klezmer. There will be other Americana type music going on.

Sunday

3pm — The Debaucherauntes — We’re doing our thang again at Folklife, as part of a whole Klezmer showcase

Monday

3:30pm — The m9 — more busking in the same place!

So that’s the schedj. I have to say, this is the first year that I am more of a performer and less of a fan. It’s kind of a big milestone for me on a personal level, although I will seriously be sad to miss all my friends doing their thing. There is some amazing music going on all weekend, so I hope you set aside time to hang out for the whole thing.

What to check out all weekend

Songs of Maritime Disasters, Fabulous Downey Brothers, Garfield Jazz Ensemble, the Tallboys, Annie Ford Band, Country Lips, New Klezmer Army, Croation Showcase, Bakelite 78, Skitnik, EuroDancePartyU$A, Radost, Orkestar Zirkonium, Juliana and Pava, Onefourfive, Dunava, Balkanarama, The Bad Things, The Lonely Coast, and much more.

Busy weekend! I hope to see you!

It never ends

As a kid, I dreamed of recording a real album and releasing it. There was no internet, and there were no encyclopedia entries on “how to record and release an album”. Today, you just search it up. Back then, good luck even going to the library and checking out some books.

And then there was the matter of becoming good enough of a musician. Or even saving up enough money. Or worse yet, the challenge of sticking together long enough as a band.

And when I started out, I erroneously thought you had to be “discovered” by a label and sign a contract.

I went through quite a few do it yourself projects, borrowing 8 track tape recorders, buying cheap mixers, and manually producing tapes and burnt CDs with friends.

And then finally, after many ups, downs, and detours, I was able to record and actually release an album on a real CD together with my bandmates. It was the first Hidden Number album.

By then, my original childhood dream seemed so distant. Truly like a dream. There was so much more to do. I was in another band, Trip Audrey, and we were getting ready to record a debut album.  I was aware of some challenges to recording due to my cheap equipment, and I needed to save up to replace that. Hidden Number needed to send out the album and promote it. And it had taken so long to record that album that we felt an urgency to record all the additional songs that didn’t make it on the album. Plus, some band members had quit and we needed to find and train some new people. Meanwhile, I had been hired on full time at my day job, and needed to do well.

By the end of the year, I had all but forgotten my childhood dream. But there was that moment when I looked back, and realized all my original ambitions had been achieved. It was a revelatory moment. Yet also a melancholy one. There was no graduation. There was no prize, or award. No moment to walk down the aisle and receive a diploma. Instead, I already had a new set of goals. I wanted to go on tour. I wanted to take drum lessons and clean up some of my bad drum habits. There were already new songs to record. I wanted to engage with fans more personally. And so much more.

It never ends. And I’m only getting started. I’m basically a nobody, and yet you can see the toll on the celebrities. All the haters that they’re too fat, or they acted poorly on Giglie.

It never ends. By the time you reach the peak of the mountain you are climbing, you can see the next one in the distance. So I hope we can all take a moment to pause, and look back down the mountain to the bottom where we started and appreciate the view. Even if you’ve just taken your first step–that’s your first step! Celebrate!

Otherwise, life will pass you by.

I bought a bottle of sparkling wine for the Hidden Number dudes, and we had a nice dinner at 1am after rehearsal at Charlies on Broadway. We made a toast to the next album. It was a simple moment, spending a single carefree hour together and appreciating each other. A humble moment, I will always remember.

New in 2014

Hey, so I’ve added a few more projects to the list. The new year is going to be awesome.

THINE

Stuart Dalquist and Joel R.L. Phelps were kind enough to invite me to join with them and a few other excellent people such as David Lutz and Jake Weller. We’ve met once already, and I’m really looking forward to the huge challenge in reproducing the whole thing in a live setting. Probably in a few months. Like Holy Cities, this is something where I was already a fan, long before I got involved. So this is dear to my heart. It’s the kind of music that sort of invents itself as it goes along–a concept that inspired me to be a musician in the first place.

UPDATE: The name has been changed to Dama/Libra.

The minor 9

We’re a Balkan brass band. No official recordings as of yet. We’ve been gearing up for Balkan Night Northwest, where you will hear our debut. This is a group of Balkan brass aficionados, who aren’t interested in being held back by the past. Yes, you can dance your butt off to us, but we don’t want our sound to require mothballs or a vacuum seal.

And I should also mention that Bucharest Drinking Team will be playing at Chop Suey for International Women’s Day, along with Kultur Shock. As per the usual, this party will be epic.